Faithlife Sermons

Four Habits for Healthy Churches

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Every church wants to be a healthy church. No legitimate Christian would tell you to your face that they want to invest their entire lives into an unhealthy church that has no desire to be a healthy one. That’s not something that we desire, we want to be a part of a healthy church. We want to be a part of a church that fulfills its purpose of glorifying God, making disciples, and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world! These are things that we should all desire… Yet, we look around our world and we see division, disunity, and destruction in nearly every level of society and the church is not immune from these threats.
A simple Google search of Habits of Healthy Churches will give you thousands and thousands of results. Preaching, Prayer, Worship, Theology, Evangelism, Discipleship, Leadership, Faithfulness, Outreach, Teaching, Counseling, Encouragement, Forgiveness, many other legitimate attributes could be added to this list as well! Tonight, we’ll do things a little different than we did this morning. Tonight we’re going to look at 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 in order to see 4 habits for healthy churches. 4 application points for us as congregation to challenge ourselves and to encourage one another towards in the days to come. While we will still be looking at this text verse by verse, I promise you that this will be a condensed message compared to what it potentially could be!
Let’s see what Paul has to say to the Thessalonians and how he encourages them to continue fighting the good fight as the local body of Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:12–22 CSB
12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to regard them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we exhort you, brothers and sisters: warn those who are idle, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray constantly, 18 give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Don’t stifle the Spirit. 20 Don’t despise prophecies, 21 but test all things. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil.

A Healthy Church Must Have Godly Leaders (12-13)

Maybe you’re a little uncertain about this opening habit because you think that it’s strange for a pastor in view of a call to come and say that a healthy church must have godly leaders. My intention by no means is to say that I have it all figured out - I’ll be the first to tell you that that is not the truth. What we see in God’s Word and I trust in our experiences is that every healthy church has leaders who love Jesus and who strive to live in a Christlike manner. I’ve gotten to know several of the leaders of this church and I can confidently say that this church has this type of godly leadership.
Paul opens up in this text by exhorting the church to hold the leaders in the church in high regard because of their work. There can sometimes be an unhealthy tension here between “leaders” and “non-leaders” and that is not Paul’s point. The New Testament shares with us several truths regarding all Christians. Did you know that every single person matters to God? Did you know that we’re all equally created in His image? Did you know that every Christian is given a spiritual gift? We are all called to be His witnesses and to share His Gospel! It’s not like Jesus only cares about the leaders of His church and He doesn’t care about everyone else - this isn’t true! Why does Paul call these Christians to hold their leaders in high regard? Because of their work.
God gifts every believer with a spiritual gift and He does so with a purpose to serve in the local church. We read about these in texts like Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Why does God do this? So that His church will have the gifts necessary to do His Kingdom work! Hear me, your gift matters! Whether it be the gift of hospitality, service, mercy, or teaching, leadership, or administration. Paul encourages the believers to hold their leaders in high regard ultimately because they have been given their spiritual gift of leadership from God and they lead not out of personal ambition or monetary goals, rather they lead because it’s what God has called them to do. A healthy church must have godly leaders who teach and preach the truth of Scripture.

A Healthy Church Must Pursue Godliness (14-15)

Paul continues and exhorts the church to do something immediately. To warn those who are idle, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone. To pursue what is good for one another! In our world there are many things battling for our attention. Whenever we get busy, it can be easy to take our eyes off of our responsibility! What happens whenever you get distracted? Let’s say that you’re driving, and something distracts you - whether it be a phone, crying baby, or something you see on the side of the road - whenever you’re behind the wheel of a car and you get distracted, that’s a dangerous situation to be in because you don’t know what’s going on in front of you! Friends, whenever we get distracted from our mission, we’re in a dangerous situation because we can get stuck in neutral real quickly. Neutral isn’t a good spot to be in… What does Jesus say to the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3 regarding being lukewarm?
Revelation 3:16 CSB
16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth.
We’re called to be hot or cold - we’re either on fire for the Lord or we’re trying to put out fires started by those who don’t know Christ. But lukewarm water does no one a lick of good. Being stuck in neutral does no one a lick of good. What must we do, then? We must be active. There are things that we are called to do today as a healthy church.
We warn those who are stuck in neutral. We help those in need. We give patience to others! Doesn’t this sound similar to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount?
Matthew 5:39 CSB
39 But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
Goodness! This is quite a challenge, especially in our divisive world today. Yet, this is what we are called to do. We don’t just look out for our own self interests and needs, we look out for others and we strive to treat them like Christ has treated us: with grace. We must pursue godliness and this requires us to actively be in the Word and to spend time in prayer because without doing these things, how will we know how what is truly good for others? As we dive into Scripture, the Bible shares with us that we all need Jesus Christ. As we come to realize this, we will do whatever we can to help them out and share the hope of the Gospel with them.

A Healthy Church Must Imitate Christ (16-20)

As we share the good news with others and comfort those who are discouraged, Paul transitions to several short verses that are loaded with 5 commands. Let’s look at each of these 5 commands:
Rejoice always
Pray constantly
Give thanks
Don’t stifle the Spirit
Don’t despise prophesies
In the Greek, these are imperative verbs - meaning that these aren’t just suggestions for some, they are commands for all Christians. How can we carry out these things? Only by imitating Christ.
Think for a moment about 1 Thessalonians 5:16, how can you and I genuinely rejoice always? How is this even possible? There are moments in our lives where we go through adversity and difficulty and it can be seemingly impossible to have joy because our circumstances are downright terrible. How can a Christian choose to have joy whenever they go to their doctors office and get a cancer diagnosis? How can a Christian choose to have joy whenever they are being persecuted for their faith? By ourselves and without Christ, there’s no way that we’d have joy in these moments… But through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can choose to have joy - this doesn’t mean that we’re happy about what’s going on - but we can rejoice because we know that God is with us even through the fire.
Hebrews 12:2 CSB
2 keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
If Jesus endured the cross and died for sinners like you and I, if we keep our eyes on Him, what begins to happen to our earthly afflictions and struggles? It doesn’t mean that they disappear and go away, but they fall into their proper place and we gain valuable perspective!
Mark Howell puts it well whenever he says, “Joy is not something that we work on; Joy is something that we live in.” We receive and walk in joy because it is a fruit of the Spirit that lives inside of us as followers of Jesus as Galatians 5:22 shares with us.
Paul continues with other commands like praying without ceasing and giving thanks in all things. How can we practically do these things? You and I do something at night called sleeping. How can we pray without ceasing if we have to sleep for 6-8 hours each night? Literally we can’t fulfill this command if we understand it in the sense of never stopping. A better understanding might be to continually pray. In other words, don’t just pray at church. Don’t just pray before meals. Don’t just pray before bed - these are all good things - but live a lifestyle in which you commune and talk with your heavenly Father. He wants you to come to Him and He shares with us to do this with all things
1 Peter 5:7 NIV
7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Our God answers prayers and we should pray to Him in the good and bad moments of life.
The 3rd imperative is to give thanks at all times. Again, how is this practical? Whenever someone cuts you off in traffic, is your first thought to say, “Thank you so much Jesus that I now have to wait another 2 minutes at this red light because this person cut me off?” Probably not - and if that’s your default mindset, friend, we need to talk tonight! There are things that happen in life that are difficult and can make being thankful even more difficult. I once knew an individual who was going through cancer treatments and was experiencing severe side effects from the treatment. She lost her hair, had no energy, and couldn’t hold her food down very well. From the outside looking in, this woman had no reason to be thankful for her circumstances… Yet, if you talked to her she would smile and tell you about how thankful she was. What on earth was this woman talking about? How can you be thankful whenever you’re walking through that type of a situation? It’s only possible if you trust that God has a plan for your life. For this woman, she was able to give thanks because she knew where she was going after she died, and she also knew that the Lord had given her a platform to proclaim the Gospel to people that she wouldn’t have met had she not gotten cancer. She could give thanks even then, and church, I have problems giving thanks whenever things are going relatively well at times. What we need is to remember how good we have it - as Christians, we are secured in Christ, and therefore we can give thanks at all times because we know whose we are. We must imitate Christ in the good and in the bad.

A Healthy Church Must Stand on God’s Word (21-22)

Much more could be said about the imperative commands in verses 16-20 but I want to look at our 4th habit and that is standing firm on God’s Word. At Morgan Baptist Church I’ve been teaching through the Baptist Faith and Message - this is an article that we, as Southern Baptists, affirm. The latest edition, the 2000 article, starts with what we believe about Scripture. The BFM 2000 states this, “It (Scripture) reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.” We believe that the Bible is the Word of God as 2 Timothy 3 shares with us
2 Timothy 3:16 CSB
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness,
If we believe that the Bible is “God-breathed” and true, then we have to let the Bible determine what we believe and what we don’t believe. Will this always be easy to do? No. In our world there are many people who pick and choose parts of the Bible that they believe in. Some say that they only believe in the “red letters” of the Bible or that they believe that Jesus was a good teacher but that He didn’t literally raise from the dead. Friends, if we pick and choose what we believe in regarding the Bible, that is a slippery slope because who gets to determine what is true and what is not? There are things in Scripture that are difficult for us to fully understand. Think of the Trinity for a moment. How can God be 3 in 1? To us that doesn’t make sense. How about the hypostatic union of Jesus? How can Jesus be fully/100% God and fully/100% man? That’s 200% and that doesn’t compute in our brains because whenever your water glass is over 100% full the rest just spills over the edge. We can’t fully grasp this… But we believe it. Why? Because we believe that the Bible isn’t just a book written by a bunch of random people. We believe that the Bible is inspired by the Creator of the Universe. We believe that it is truth. We believe that it is our highest authority. As a result, we test things in our world based on what the Bible says.
Say there’s a situation going on and you try to determine if it’s right or not… If the Bible says something is right or wrong, that’s the answer. If the Bible says it, that settles it. We stand firmly on the Word of God and we hold onto what it says. We stay away from worldly ideologies and ideas that attempt to tickle our ears because they come and go with the wind… But the Word is our anchor in the storm. The Word does not change. The Word is truth. A healthy church will always stand upon what God’s Word says.


As we do these things, there will undoubtedly be some disagreement. People will feel differently about certain teachings and how we should proceed with this or that. Paul and Peter didn’t agree on every fine point of doctrine - read Acts 15 to see some conflict in the early church. But what did they agree on? That Jesus Christ saves sinners and that Jesus Christ is the only way that we can be saved. That we must repent and place our faith in Christ and live for Him as a new creation. They agreed on the essentials of the Christian faith. A healthy church will do the same in our world. We won’t agree on everything - you might prefer the KJV and your neighbor might prefer the NIV or CSB and that’s ok :) But we’ve all got to agree on Jesus Christ. As we are united in Christ and on the essentials found in places like Ephesians 4:1-6, we grow as a body and we fulfill our calling and our function.
What are some of the functions of the local church? Why do we do what we do? We’ve looked at some habits of the church and some of the things that we do, but what are the main reasons that we pursue godliness, imitate Christ and stand firm on His Word? In Scripture we see that the church exists to do several things
The Church exists to:
Exalt the Savior
Equip the Saint
Evangelize the Sinner
Encourage the Sheep
Jesus Christ promised to build His church and He declared that the gates of hell would not stand against it. What does that imply to us 2000 years later? If the gates of hell cannot stand against the church of Christ, we must be on the offensive because our victory is assured regardless of the size of our foe. Christ has won for us the victory and He calls His church to be His witnesses. Therefore, our responsibility is to give Him glory, to teach His Word, to invite the lost so that they might become found, and to encourage one another on this journey called life.
Aren’t you thankful that even when you might not feel the best, you can open up your copy of God’s Word and read that your Savior lives and that He is still at work? Church, don’t just trust in your feelings, let’s trust in the Word of the living God. Let’s devote ourselves to being His faithful servants and being a shining light for Jesus in a dark, cold, world.
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